Marshall likely out tonight
By Nancy Armour
ST. LOUIS — North Carolina point guard Kendall Marshall watched his teammates from the side of the court, cradling a basketball and occasionally giving it a bounce or two with his good hand.
It might be the closest he gets to handling the ball for the Tar Heels.
Marshall said he would not be able to play if top-seeded North Carolina’s game were Thursday night because of his broken right wrist, and coach Roy Williams said he has a “strong, strong inclination” that his most irreplaceable player will not be in the lineup for Friday’s game against 13th-seeded Ohio (29-7).
“I just know the kid tells me he can’t brush his teeth yet. How the dickens can he play a basketball game if he can’t brush his teeth?” Williams said Thursday. “I mean, he can go out there with bad breath, but you’ve still got to be able to play the dadgum game.”
The left-handed Marshall was hurt Sunday when he was fouled on a drive against Creighton. He had surgery Monday to install a screw in the wrist and got his cast off Wednesday. He wore a black brace Thursday and was keeping his arm elevated above his heart to help speed the healing.
The wrist is improving with each day, Marshall said, but his range of motion has to improve and the pain has to decrease before he’ll be ready to play again. He has not practiced since getting hurt and said he hasn’t tried dribbling.
“I don’t want to put my hand in danger of getting hurt, and also a big thing is I want to be able to help my team while I’m out there,” Marshall said. “If I can’t help my team while I’m out there, I’m not going to push to play.”
Marshall is averaging about eight points and 10 assists for the Tar Heels (31-5) in the Midwest Regional. He has scored in double figures for six straight games and has been the team’s most irreplaceable player at the helm of its fast-paced attack.
The Dumfries, Va., native is a second-team all-Atlantic Coast Conference pick who has 351 assists in 36 games, the best season total in league history and fourth most in NCAA history.
“Kendall Marshall is the best point guard I’ve ever had in several areas,” Williams said. “One is after the other team scores, he can attack with the basketball and pitch ahead, and we can lay it up while everybody is still celebrating, hoping their girlfriend is watching them run back down the court. He can attack you after you score better than anybody. He pitches ahead better than anybody I ever had. He thinks pass first, second, third, fourth — maybe not fifth, but at least the top four.”
But he is not irreplaceable, Marshall said. If he is unable to play, freshman Stilman White or versatile senior Justin Watts would handle the point guard duties, and Marshall has spent the last two days encouraging them and giving them advice.
“Whether I’m playing or not, it’s not going to matter. Carolina basketball is still going to go on,” Marshall said. “They can be successful without me.”
White began the year as No. 3 on the Tar Heels’ depth chart, never expecting he’d get significant playing time, let alone in the NCAA tournament. But he became Marshall’s primary backup after Dexter Strickland suffered a season-ending knee injury.
He has appeared in all but four of North Carolina’s games this year, scoring 23 points and dishing out 19 assists.
“It’s something in practice you’ve got to prepare for, always prepare as if I’m going to be playing a lot of minutes,” White said. “It definitely helps to go through the ACC season, playing in that competition. … Also, in practice, I’ve gotten to go up against the best point guard in the country.”
As tough as the injury has been, Marshall said he’s been encouraged by all of the people who have posted pictures to his “Pass Fir5t” Facebook and Twitter pages. Tar Heels fans are being asked to show their support for Marshall by wearing his No. 5 on their right wrists.
“I’m not getting a dadgum tattoo,” Williams said. “I love Kendall Marshall, but I’m not getting a tattoo. Let’s get that straight.”